WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–On Tuesday, Aug. 11, Mitchell Johnson turned 14. But while Johnson was the center of attention on his birthday, the cake, candles and streamers were hauntingly absent.
Instead of sitting at the family dinner table surrounded by loved ones, the teenage boy found himself standing before a crowded Arkansas juvenile courtroom apologizing for killing four classmates and a teacher. His birthday presents were replaced on this day by 28 boxes of tissues for the victims’ mourning family members.
“If I could go back and change what happened on March 24, 1998, I would do so in a minute,” Mitchell told the court in a shaken voice, the Associated Press reported. Mitchell pleaded guilty to five counts of murder and 10 counts of battery. Twelve-year- old Andrew Golden was found guilty of the same charges after a judge rejected Golden’s plea of temporary insanity. Both boys were sentenced to a juvenile detention center until they’re 18. The state of Arkansas can hold the boys until they’re 21, but currently the state doesn’t have a facility to hold juvenile criminals beyond their 18th birthday.
Shortly after the Jonesboro shooting, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said, “It should shock us and maybe wake us up to recognize that this isn’t an individual problem of students or one school or even a state; it’s a cultural disease that we’ve got to address.”
The Jonesboro shooting was one in a series of school shootings during the last school year. Before the Arkansas murders, students were shot dead at West Paducah, Ky., and Pearl, Miss. Over the following two months, a teacher was shot and killed at a school dance in Edinboro, Pa., and two were shot to death at a school in Springfield, Ore.
Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that as school campuses increasingly look more like war zones of mayhem and carnage, the warning bell rings louder for the church to redouble its efforts to reach the teenage generation. Far too many of today’s youth are drowning in a culture steeped in New Age philosophy that preaches each person is his own god, he said.
To address such trends, Patterson is hosting a conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., Sept. 14-16 for pastors, youth pastors and laypeople who have a burden for evangelizing and discipling youth.
The three-day conference, called “Culture Shock ’98,” is designed “to redirect youth ministry to a biblically based program built on Christ-centered theology, philosophy and methodology,” said Patterson who also serves as president of Southeastern Seminary.
Patterson said too many youth programs in churches today are being dictated by adolescent whims and cultural trends. He called for more youth ministries to be focused on evangelism, edification and encouragement.
“Enough of attempting to entertain kids into the church,” he said.”Let’s get them to Christ and make teen-evangelists and apologists for the kingdom of God out of every one of them.”
Among featured speakers for the conference are David Burton, director of the personal evangelism department of the Florida Baptist Convention; Rick Gage, founder of the “Rick Gage ‘Go Tell’ Youth Camp;” Frank Harber, evangelist and apologist from Fort Worth, Texas; Allen Jackson, assistant professor of youth education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Richard Ross, youth ministry consultant at Lifeway Christian Resources (formerly Sunday School Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention; and evangelist Jay Strack from Orlando, Fla.
Patterson said the conference will address several youth ministry issues such as how to teach youth to uphold a universal concept of right and wrong in a generation where situational ethics are the norm; how to take a stand for Christ in a culture that embraces “tolerance” as the number one virtue; and how to advocate absolute truth in a pluralistic society where all truth claims are considered equal.
The cost for the conference is $150. Seminary students may attend for a discounted rate of $50. More information about Culture Shock ’98 can be obtained by calling (919)-556-3101, ext. 316, or accessing Southeastern’s Internet site at www.sebts.edu.
New believer’s untimely death
helps bring others to saving faith
By Norman Miller
OGBOMOSHO, Nigeria (BP)–Sunday Ode was a new Christian, and he eagerly looked forward to his baptism. But in the spring he contracted a terrible cough. Within three days of his scheduled baptism, the cough worsened and Ode died.
Students from the Nigeria Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomosho, Nigeria, visited Ode’s bereaved family. They saw that on the door of his room he had scrawled in chalk: “Brothers and Sisters: Please accept Christ.” No one who entered Ode’s room could miss the message.
The students told Ode’s family about Jesus, and two of them accepted Christ. After the funeral, one family member asked the seminarians to begin a church in their village. When the students showed the “Jesus” film there, many people were saved and a church was started.
Two men — each from different villages — were among those who decided to follow Christ after seeing the Jesus film. They asked the students to bring the film to their villages and start there too. When the Jesus film was shown in these villages, many more followed Christ and two more churches were planted.
Ode didn’t get far on his Christian pilgrimage. But his untimely death — and the few simple words he wrote on his bedroom door — brought new spiritual life to many others waiting to hear the good news of salvation in Jesus.
Critical issues await votes
in Congress as end nears
By Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP)–Although Democratic Party leaders and other critics have portrayed this as a do-nothing Congress, the Senate and House of Representatives have not been idle in 1998 on an assortment of religious liberty concerns, as well as moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality.
The 105th Congress will attempt to complete work on some significant pieces of legislation involving church-state and social issues when it returns after a month-long August recess. The Senate will reconvene Aug. 31, while the House will return Sept. 9. It may be little short of a mad rush as both houses approach their Oct. 9 target date for adjournment in preparation for the November elections.
Action awaits at least one house on such issues as religious persecution in foreign countries, religious freedom in the United States, a ban on a grisly form of abortion, Internet pornography and gambling, and assisted suicide.
The increased activity on such issues in recent months may be attributed to some extent to the Republican leadership’s increased sensitivity to its conservative base. Evangelical James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, warned in February he would bolt from the GOP and take as many people with him as possible if congressional Republicans did not act on their promises to conservative Christians who helped elect them.
Congress has found itself at odds with President Clinton several times. He vetoed two educational reform bills Congress sent to him, and, when it returns, the Senate will seek to follow the House’s example in a vote to override the president’s second veto of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act. Potential vetoes threaten other bills as well, including legislation designed to thwart religious persecution overseas and a measure that would outlaw the interstate transportation of a minor for an abortion without the parents’ involvement.
Congress and Clinton did agree on a bill amending the federal bankruptcy code in order to provide protection for churches and charities from judges after a series of rulings in recent years ordered churches to surrender tithes contributed by members who later filed for bankruptcy. The president signed it into law early in the summer.
“Obviously, Congress has already addressed a number of critically important issues,” said Will Dodson, director of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “However, I think that what happens in the few weeks remaining in this session of Congress will determine whether we can look back on it as a particularly fruitful one.”
Southern Baptists, Dodson said, have the opportunity for a significant impact on two issues: Religious persecution and partial-birth abortion.
“Congress cares about where Southern Baptists stand” on religious persecution overseas, he said. “Therefore, it is very important that Southern Baptists express to members of Congress their conviction that addressing the issue of persecution of Christians be elevated as a major concern in America’s foreign policy.
“The other issue by which this Congress will be judged is the vote in the Senate to override the president’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban,” Dodson said. “Just three more votes are needed to override the veto. Therefore, Southern Baptists should make every effort to contact senators who have previously voted against the ban.”
Here is the status of legislation involving religious liberty, moral and family issues.
— Legislation designed to remedy the persecution of religious adherents overseas faces a struggle for passage. The House passed the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act in a 375-41 vote in May, but the bill sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., lacks support in the Senate. An alternative bill, the International Religious Freedom Act (S. 1868), from Sen. Don Nickles, R.-Okla., has the best chance in the Senate, but it has been blocked by Democrats and a small group of Republicans in the Foreign Relations Committee. Revisions in the Nickles bill may give it a chance of passage. So far, the White House has been opposed to both approaches.
— The Religious Liberty Protection Act (S. 2148/H.R. 4019), a measure proposed to restore safeguards for the free exercise of religion, also has been rocked by criticism. The Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee approved RLPA in early August but only after removing protections based on the use of the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. The Senate has not acted on the proposal. RLPA is designed to re-establish in a limited fashion the high standard the government previously had to meet before restricting religious exercise. It serves as Congress’ response to the 1997 Supreme Court opinion overturning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
— Congress nearly unanimously passed and President Clinton signed into law earlier this summer the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act, which provides relief for a series of rulings in recent years ordering churches to surrender tithes contributed by members who later filed for bankruptcy. It amends the federal bankruptcy code to prohibit a federal bankruptcy judge from forcing a church or charity to return past gifts of as much as 15 percent of the bankrupt person’s gross income. It also would allow a person who has filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy to include tax-exempt contributions of as much as 15 percent of his gross income in a budget for debt repayment.
— The Religious Freedom Amendment failed in the House for lack of a two-thirds majority. The vote in early June was 224-203 in favor of RFA, but supporters fell 61 votes short of the margin needed for a constitutional amendment. The proposal, which said the “people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs … shall not be infringed,” was necessary to remedy more than three decades of Supreme Court decisions that have served to restrict religious expression in public, amendment backers said.
— The most important abortion vote this year will occur when the Senate reconvenes after the August recess. Senators again will be called upon to vote to override Clinton’s veto of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act. When the Senate passed the bill last year, it fell three votes short of a veto-proof majority. The House easily gained the two-thirds majority required when it voted 296-132 for a veto override in July. The president twice has vetoed the measure, which would prohibit an abortion procedure performed on an almost totally delivered baby normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.
— The House easily approved the Child Custody Protection Act (S. 1645/H.R. 3682) in mid-July, but its 276-150 vote was eight votes short of the two-thirds majority required to override a threatened veto. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill a day later. The bill would make it an offense for a person to transport a minor to another state for an abortion without the parents’ involvement when the state in which the girl lives requires either parental notification or consent. The White House has said it “strongly opposes the bill” unless “close family members” other than parents are excluded from liability.
— The House adopted an amendment to a spending bill that would prohibit the Food and Drug Administration from using federal funds to develop or approve abortion-inducing drugs, including RU 486. The 223-202 vote in late June came on an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Coburn, R.-Okla., to the agricultural appropriations bill. The House easily approved the spending bill. The Senate has yet to take up the funding measure.
— In a loss for pro-life advocates, both houses of Congress voted to require coverage for contraceptives, even when they are abortion-inducing, in the health benefits program for federal employees. An attempt in the House to amend this amendment to the Department of Treasury/Postal Service appropriations bill by excluding abortion-inducing drugs failed.
— The House refused in early August to block Clinton’s May executive order extending job protection in the federal government to homosexuals. Sixty-three Republicans joined with 188 Democrats in a 252-176 vote to reject a measure that would have banned funding to implement or administer the executive order. The ground-breaking order requires all federal agencies to add “sexual orientation” to the list of categories — such as race, gender and age — protected by executive order against discrimination in the federal civilian workforce. Opponents of the order contend it authorizes affirmative-action programs for homosexuals.
— The House barely approved a measure blocking San Francisco from using federal funds to implement its policy of requiring businesses and charities having contracts with the city to provide benefits to homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples. The late July vote was 214-212 in favor of an amendment by Rep. Frank Riggs, R.-Calif., to a funding bill for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development. The Senate has not taken up the bill.
— The House adopted a proposal prohibiting adoptions by homosexual and unmarried, cohabiting heterosexual couples in the District of Columbia. The 227-192 vote occurred just before the August recess on an amendment by Rep. Steve Largent, R.-Okla., to the D.C. appropriations bill. The Senate has not acted on the legislation.
— Although a Senate hearing was held last October on the Employment Non-discrimination Act, neither house has acted this year on the bill. ENDA would establish homosexuality and other sexual behavior, under the title of “sexual orientation,” as a classification deserving protection in the same way race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, religion and disability now have protected status in the workplace.
— The Senate approved in July a proposal by Sen. Dan Coats, R.-Ind., that would restrict commercial Internet sites on the World Wide Web from distributing pornography to children under 17. The measure, adopted as an amendment to the appropriations bill for the Commerce, State and Justice departments, would require commercial distributors on the web to remove free images and to require a credit card or personal identification number in order to view sexually explicit material. The House has not acted on the proposal.
— In another amendment to the same spending bill, senators passed a bill by Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., that would require schools and libraries that receive federal Internet subsidies to have software filters on their computers to block out sexually explicit material. The House has not taken up the bill.
— In a defeat for religious conservatives, the House approved $98 million in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The Senate has not voted on the measure. The NEA frequently has been criticized the last decade for funding works of a pornographic and sacrilegious nature, but Congress has continued to support it.
— Both the Senate and House adopted educational reform legislation allowing tax-free savings accounts to be used for religious and other private schooling at the elementary and secondary levels, but Clinton vetoed it in July. Neither house had the votes for a veto override. The provision would have allowed parents or others to place as much as $2,000 a year for a child in an account with no tax on the interest if it is used for education. This post-tax money could have been used for kindergarten through 12th grade students at public, private, religious or home schools.
— Both houses of Congress approved educational vouchers for children in the District of Columbia, but the president used his veto power in May to strike down the measure. The free-standing bill, the first voucher legislation ever sent to the White House, would have permitted 2,000 students from low-income families to receive vouchers of as much as $3,200 to pay for tuition at area private schools, including religious ones. The House revived the legislation shortly before its August recess when it passed in a 214-208 vote a similar measure as an amendment to the D.C. appropriations bill.
— The House turned back in a 264-166 vote in July a resolution that would have revoked “normal trade relations” — previously known as most-favored-nation status — for China. The vote divided evangelical Christians. Opponents of favorable trade conditions for the communist giant cited its persecution of Christians and other religious adherents, its coercive abortion policy and other violations of human rights.
— Both the Senate and House passed legislation denying entry into this county to foreign government officials who have been involved in either forced abortion, coercive sterilization or religious persecution. In late July, the Senate approved the visa ban on the activities as an amendment by Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R.-Ark., to the Defense Department appropriations bill. The House adopted the ban overwhelmingly as two free-standing bills last November. The House bills single out China, while the Senate measure covers all countries. A conference committee will be required to settle the differences.
— The Senate voted 90-10 in July to prohibit Internet gambling. The measure, an amendment by Sen. John Kyl, R.-Ariz., to the appropriations bill for the Commerce, State and Justice departments, would extend the ban on gambling by telephone or wire to such activity on the Internet and other computer services. The measure awaits action in the House.
— The House Judiciary Committee approved the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act (H.R. 4006) in early August. The bill would revoke a doctor’s Drug Enforcement Administration registration if he prescribes federally regulated drugs for the purpose of assisted suicide or euthanasia. A DEA registration enables a doctor to prescribe federally controlled drugs. A vote on the House floor is expected after the August recess.
— The House Appropriations Committee voted 32-24 in mid-July in favor of an amendment that would mandate parental notification by federally funded Title X clinics before dispensing contraceptive drugs or devices to minors. The amendment was to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill. Sen. John Ashcroft, R.-Mo., has introduced a broader bill in the Senate requiring parental consent for contraceptives from or abortion referrals by a federally funded program.
— Efforts continue to eliminate the tax penalty for married couples, but their success remains questionable. A proposal in the House by Rep. David McIntosh, R.-Ind., and Rep. Jerry Weller, R.-Ill., would keep married couples from being taxed more than two singles, according to Family Research Council.
LifeWay mission team finds
divine appointments in Kenya
By Mike Livingstone
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Inside a tiny mud hut in a remote village, I sat between my two Kenyan interpreters. Across from the three of us sat Evelyn, a young Kenyan woman who looked to be in her mid-20s.
I explained to Evelyn that I had come from America because God wanted me to share his message with her. She listened intently as I presented the gospel. Then she bowed her head and prayed to accept Jesus as her Savior.
Later she explained to us, “Last night I had a dream that three men would come visit me. One of them was a white man, the other two were Africans.”
A coincidence? No way!
Evelyn had no way of knowing that the three of us would visit her that day. But God knew, and he had prepared her heart to hear his message. My visit with Evelyn is representative of the many divine appointments God had planned for the 29 members of the LifeWay mission team as we ministered for eight days in July along the western border of Kenya, from Lake Victoria north to Busia.
Those of us who went on this mission trip experienced God in ways difficult to translate into words. We recorded 5,963 professions of faith, baptized 464 people and started 26 new churches. We may have experienced more of God in eight days than many American Christians experience in a lifetime.
The professions of faith were recorded mostly one, two and three or more at a time as we walked with our interpreters an estimated combined 700 miles (the distance from Nashville, Tenn., to Fort Worth, Texas), witnessing village to village, hut to hut, on dirt roads, in sugarcane fields, in shops, in hospitals and along the shores of Lake Victoria.
The name of every person who prayed to receive Christ was recorded by the Kenyans for follow-up. We left the Kenyan churches with a tremendous amount of follow-up to do. I am confident they can and will do it, but they need our prayers.
The 464 baptisms took place in only three baptismal services, one of those in beautiful Lake Victoria, the world’s second-largest freshwater lake and one of the chief sources of the Nile River.
Before entering the water, I tried to remember exactly why my doctor specifically had warned me not to get into Lake Victoria — something about parasites I think. But this opportunity was one I could not miss. It looked like a scene out of The Commission magazine (publication of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board).
With the mountains of Uganda in the background, a long line of new believers waded into the water four at a time to be baptized by four of us Americans, while hundreds of Christians lined the shore-singing, clapping, cheering on the new believers. Never have I seen such an outpouring of genuine joy at a baptismal service.
Each person baptized received a Swahili Bible and a booklet for new Christians titled, “Growing in Christ.” For most of them, this Bible was the first they have ever owned. How excited and proud they were to have a Bible of their very own.
The 26 new churches that were started are located mostly in villages and towns without any other evangelical church. Most are without pastors. Most worship under trees. Pray for those 26 new churches. Pray that God would raise up strong leaders. And pray they would have church buildings soon.
Two things deeply impacted me on this, my fourth, trip to Kenya.
First, the people are so hungry for the gospel. On my “worst” day I worked in a particularly difficult area called Buroma and led only 10 people to Christ. I was so disappointed at the end of the day. Imagine in the United States saying you are disappointed because you led only 10 people to Christ in a day!
The following day my team was moved to a town called Bumala. This area, too, was a “difficult area” we were told. But I led 61 people to the Lord that day (50 before noon!) and 56 the next day. The people there are eager to hear the gospel. They only need someone to go and tell them.
One Kenyan woman who prayed to receive Christ asked one of our team members how long we were staying in Kenya. When she heard we’d be returning to the United States in just a few days, she replied, “How can you go back to America so soon when there are so many lost people here?”
Some of our team members witnessed a crippled boy who crawled down a rocky path to the church service to hear about Jesus. His knees were bloodied when he arrived, but his face bore a smile.
Secondly, I was impressed by the dedication of the Kenyan Christians. Some of them would walk or ride their bicycles up to 20 miles one way to help us witness to the lost. In the United States, how many of us walk across the street to tell someone about Jesus?
For those who did not have the opportunity to go on this year’s trip, we expect the Kenya Baptist Convention to request another LifeWay volunteer team to work near the same area next year and to make an eternal difference.
I remember one elderly Kenyan woman I witnessed to who told me that she had heard about Jesus but did not know that he died for her sins. Now she knows. And now she knows Jesus as her Savior.
We made an eternal difference not only to her, and to the approximately 6,000 others who accepted Christ as their Savior, but also to the pastors and church leaders who were encouraged by our coming.
We made a difference in the churches that were strengthened.
We made a difference in the villages and towns that had no evangelical church but now have a Baptist congregation.
And the trip made a difference in the lives of those of us who went. We are not the same people. One team member wrote to me in an e-mail after our return home: “The pettiness of our lives is a burden now.”
It took me about a week to recover physically from the trip. My prayer is that I will never “recover” spiritually from what I experienced there.
(BP) photos posted in SBCNet BP Photos Library by the LifeWay bureau of Baptist Press. Livingstone is a biblical studies designer in the Sunday school division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
‘Postdenominationalism’ is here,
but it’s not all bad, professor says
By Chip Alford
GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–The loyalty level to denominations may be on the endangered species list, but a Southern Baptist professor isn’t forecasting extinction, just change.
“I’m not so sure it’s as tragic as we think it is,” Steve Stookey, associate professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, told a group of student workers attending his Aug. 12 seminar, “Postdenominationalism: The Student and Religious Identity.” The session was part of Student Week ’98 at Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center.
“Postdenominationalism doesn’t mean denominations are going to die; they’re just changing,” Stookey said. “We’re talking about a transition. The question we should be asking is, ‘What are they going to look like (in the 21st century)?'”
Stookey said he doesn’t even like the term “postdenominationalism,” preferring “neodenominationalism” as a more accurate description of today’s religious world.
“Denominations are under radical reconstruction right now,” he added, “and a lot of time we aren’t even aware of it.”
He cited several evidences of denominational erosion, such as:
— The increasing use of generic church names which leave out denominational affiliation.
— Explosive growth of para-church groups, e.g Promise Keepers, which are attracting time, energy and resources away from local churches. Many of these groups are big on worship and service, but have minimal theological or doctrinal stances so they can appeal to a wide variety of denominations.
— A shift from a focus on long-term global missions investments to short-term mission projects often initiated at the local church level. Southern Baptists have done a good job of recognizing this trend and partnering with local churches to provide short-term missions opportunities without losing a global focus, Stookey said.
— The rise of the Internet and desktop publishing, which has created an “entrepreneurial spirit” in some churches when it comes to producing Christian resources. It has the potential, Stookey said, to erode support or use of denominational publishing houses.
— Seminaries in flux. Denominational conflicts have resulted in numerous “smaller niche” schools. Many seminaries are seriously evaluating their curriculum and training methods needed for the 21st century.
So, what’s causing all this?
In addition to waning denominational loyalty, Stookey cited “postmodernism” and “generational challenges.”
Discussing postmodernism, Stookey said: “We’re in a time frame of change intellectually. Since the Enlightenment in the 1600s, reason and rationality have ruled the day for 300 years. We were all influenced by it. But now we’re seeing a transition in the way people think.”
Whereas the Enlightenment affirmed the idea that man’s capacity for knowledge was unlimited, the postmodern mind sees limits, Stookey explained. As a result, postmodern thinking has trouble with concepts like absolute truth and universal identitie